Andy Roddick: The Consummate Entertainer

The former World Number One won his only Grand Slam title in 2003
07:05, 30 Aug 2019

In the summer of 2003, myself and my best friend entertained ourselves down at the local gravel-strewn tennis courts, as was now custom when term had ended; school’s out, let’s play tennis. 

Similar to those who claim to be representing a particular footballer when they take to the pitch, we each designated ourselves tennis players, of course, the best and most famous at the time.

Our seemingly endless matches would have one constant; I was Andy Roddick and my mate was Roger Federer.

Time showed that one of us had made the more sensible decision. However, the potential rivalry between the two professionals across the next decade -  at the time of that year’s Wimbledon Roddick and Federer were 20 and 21, respectively - was mouthwatering.

Roddick had his venomous, cobra-like serve, brash attitude and unmerciful power (in 2004 he clocked the then-serving record of 155mph); Federer the proponent of grace and precision, the artist.

That year Federer claimed the first of his record-breaking Wimbledon titles, the beginning of an unparalleled career that has constantly clamoured for him to be regarded as the greatest tennis player of all time.

For Roddick, however, it became a distinctly different story.

At the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards that year, Roddick, in a pre-recorded skit, asked the viewer who they thought was Numero Uno in the tennis rankings that year and broke down the contenders; was it Agassi? Juan Carlos Ferrero? Leyton Hewitt?

Of course, it was leading up to the declaration that it was in fact him. A brilliant 2003 had seen Roddick win in Montreal and Cincinnati on the ATP tour, beating David Nalbandian and Mardy Fish, respectively, as well as victory at the US Open over Ferrero.

Unfortunately, that Grand Slam would be his only one.

Less than two months into the New Year, the sensational Swiss Federer had paired an Australian Open to his Wimbledon victory and had supplanted Roddick to begin his unprecedented 237 consecutive days run at the top of the rankings. 

Notably, 2003 was the last time for nine years that the Grand Slams would be shared by four individual players; the next year Federer won all but the French Open and, up until 2019, only six players have managed to break the monopoly of Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic; six players on ten occasions.

Roddick became more known for being the jock, the entertainer, and of course, his outbursts. For every moment of refreshing joviality, like pausing a match against Federer to ask spectator Ben Stiller for his autograph, there was the passionate, often vitriolic rage at a decision; “Stay in school kids or you’ll end up being an umpire!” Roddick memorably declared at the Australian Open.

In 2002 there was even an appearance on Sabrina The Teenage Witch, and the following year hosting Saturday Night Live. It was becoming clear that Roddick’s appeal was easily translatable off the court and his post-playing career in punditry is logical.

Roddick’s outspoken attitude could either be endearing - evoking memories of his supremely talented compatriot McEnroe - or frustrating; ‘an all bark and no bite’ attitude, if you will. There was his reaction after defeat to the Swiss in the 2009 Wimbledon Final, when Federer told him how he empathised with him, having lost to Rafael Nadal in that classic match the year previous; “Yeah but you’ve won five of them already!” That occasion marked the fourth and final time he faced and lost to Federer in a Grand Slam Finals, and the third time at Wimbledon. 

This particular result can arguably be seen to either epitomise the lacklustre return of Roddick the player ‘the youngest American Number One in history’, or the fact that Roddick simply developed in an era in which the game was raised; the dominant triptych of Federer, Nadal, and - eventually - Djokovic unlikely to be unmatched in the game for a generation. 

Roddick was primed to be the successor to Agassi and Sampras, the latter having retired in the same year that Roddick got his number one status. That didn’t happen. He does, however, remain the archetypal American men’s player of the immediate post-millennium. His charity work is exceptional and was rightly awarded the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award. The Andy Roddick Foundation continues to help at-risk youths.

In 2012 Roddick declared, on his 30th birthday, his intention to retire. In 2019, at 38 years old, Roger Federer is aiming for a 21st Grand Slam title.

As a character on-and-off the court, however, Roddick can claim bragging rights.

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